Monday, December 7, 2009

The French

I know I only posted two pictures this weekend and if you're friends with me on FaceBook you've already seen them. Sorry about that. The task of sorting through all the images we have is a bit daunting. I'll keep working on it.

While we were in France I made note of some of the observations I couldn't help but making while we were there. These were either items that surprised me or just caught my attention. Some of them cultural, others just plain ordinary. Today, observations on the people.

Polite vs. Rude. People are far more polite than I anticipated. I’d heard so much that the French are rude, that Parisians in particular are rather impatient and stuck up. Maybe it is because I’m traveling with a native speaker, maybe France got tired of it’s reputation, I don’t know, but so far we have encountered only very polite people. Well, for the most part. We have had two rude waiters but hey, I’ve had rude servers in the States plenty of times as well so I’m not crushed. If people notice that I am pregnant they not only offer up their seat on the metro, they insist I take it. Arguing is futile, I’m pregnant, I must sit, the end. Which works out well as I’m only too willing to park my rear if even for just a short metro trip. And to make up for the two rude servers we had, we had two perfectly wonderful servers and many other very kind servers show us French hospitality including the woman today at a charming place in Montmartre that heard us observing that the pastries were cheaper if we got them to go than if we ate them there. She not only gave us the discounted price for to-go orders but additionally gave us one for free. Not that I’m eating pastries, obviously, but she did get a huge tip.

Celebrity status. Very small children, babies and pregnant women receive something like celebrity status attention out in public. They are stared at, let to the front of the line, offered extras and on the metro always given a seat. Young and old alike will hop up to offer a mother with a small child or a pregnant woman their seat on the train. Being a pregnant woman I found it both wonderfully charming and a little embarrassing. I couldn’t refuse their charity, they’d insist more and I felt like I was making an ungrateful scene. So I’d smile and accept the seat and try not to notice the people smiling and starring at me. This is so unlike the treatment I’ve experienced in the states, not that people in the states are mean to pregnant women, small children and babies in public but they don’t give up their seats for them, that’s for sure.

Short people. Perhaps I should say “vertically challenged?” Or “height challenged?” Anyway, there are a lot of people on the short side in France, particularly of the older generations. I actually think that though I was not exactly on the tall side but certainly on the taller side of average and Jeremy was just plain freaky tall. There seemed to be more younger people that were more of what I’m accustomed to in terms of height but even still, Jeremy stood a good head taller than most. So we had the pregnant chic hanging with the giant guy with crazy hair and crazy beard-thingy. I think we kind of stuck out.

Children. At first it seemed like the kids must have been in hiding because we saw very, very few though we did see some babies. Eventually though, the weekend hit and we were in a less touristy or trendy area and suddenly we saw lots of kids of all ages and families of all sizes. It seemed everyone was looking out for the kids, not just the parents. The kids were obviously an important part of the community and valued highly. They were also given more freedom and responsibility than I’m used to seeing these days in the states. Children as young as 8 or 9 were allowed to play unsupervised in parks, walk the streets to the market or bakery to pick-up fresh bread, and walk to and from school. I sat at an outside table of a little cafe down the street from an open air market while Jeremy went in search of something on a Sunday morning watching children carrying sacks of produce and bread on their own and marveled. This was Paris and children walked the streets with confidence and safety. Nobody seemed surprised by this but me. Let me tell you, this has caused me some serious consideration regarding my parenting but more on that later. The children in Paris were confident, aware of their place of value in society, polite and still children. Though I’ve heard a lot of about the parenting crisis in France (more on that later too) I was thrilled to see children such a valued part of society and not just for their worth as a consumer. The family in France is in crisis but children are still cherished deeply.

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